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Jul 17, 2020

“My administration will look like the country, and I commit that I will in fact pick a woman to be Vice President.”

Joe Biden said that at a Democratic Presidential debate in March 2020.

Some may be cheering the idea of a Presidential candidate deliberately choosing a female as running mate. I remember when Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1984. That was important to this 12-year-old — seeing a woman as part of a Presidential campaign, seeing a man choose a woman for his running mate when the norm was (and still is) to choose a white man.

That’s right. A white male is still the default measurement for a qualified individual, President and otherwise. I wrote about the “Lie of the ‘Best Person for the Job’” earlier this year, and equity and inclusion leader Stephanie Ghoston Paul hit it on the head in her tweet:

“The call for diversity w/o shifting org culture is BS anyway so they’re guaranteeing they’ll ‘try’ to hire a ‘diverse’ candidate, then end up with the white cis-het [wo]man and say we went with the ‘best’ person [for the job].” 

BFOQs Still Matter

To be fair and equal, we cannot state that we are looking for a woman or a person of color for a particular position unless it is a bona fide occupational qualification, meaning that you can only ask for someone to be of a particular race, sex, age, or national origin if the trait is truly needed for that job.

It might be hard for many people to fathom now, but for a long time, employers would list what sex they were looking for. That’s why we now have rules that prevent companies from saying that they are looking for a white man for a supervisor position, a white woman for a secretary role, or saying no BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color).

For the most part, that’s a good thing. We should be looking for someone who meets the qualifications of the job we are looking to fill. No one is advocating hiring an unqualified person for a position. But perhaps we need to start looking at this issue a little differently for leadership positions. 

An Interesting Question

A few weeks ago, my friend and TA leader Jeffrey Shapiro asked an interesting question on Twitter:

“By committing to a female VP candidates, does anyone else see Biden as a hiring manager who tells [a] recruiter, ‘I wanna hire a woman’?”

Now, a person’s sex, gender, and race are not part of requirements to be Vice President of the United States, but in the 58 U.S. Presidential elections we’ve had, all but three of the candidates (of a major political party with a true chance) for President or Vice President have been white men. Also, 82% of our governors are male, and only two of them are not white, while Congress is 78% white and 77% male.

Similarly, 72% of corporate leadership is made up of white men. 

So while we are seeing an increase in women and BIPOC in leadership positions, the default remains white and male. 

Representation Matters

Maybe — hear me out — we need to rethink what it means to look for the best person for the job by looking for the person to best represent who we want to see in leadership and who our employees look like. 

I’d like to see us start taking a concerted effort to put women and BIPOC into leadership roles within our organizations. Let’s be deliberate. There are plenty of qualified individuals for your positions that aren’t white guys. You can and should seek them out.

Perhaps you are working on your pipeline, ensuring that you have a good mix of candidates in the pool, but are you ensuring a good mix of candidates that are interviewed? 

In 2003, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to consider at least one person of color for a head coaching position. Success has been varied; there are currently only three men of color as head coach. As TA professionals, we need to be sure that we are putting a diverse slate of candidates in front of hiring managers and leaders.

We can create our own version of the Rooney Rule. 

We also need to review job descriptions and qualifications on a regular basis. Let’s be sure we aren’t moving the goal posts and making it harder to find a qualified, non-white male for the position. We need to be sure we aren’t so set on finding someone just like the last person that we overlook what someone who looks different could bring to the role and your organization.

Diversity of Thought Is Not Enough

Now, before you say I’m trying to bring down white guys, I’m not. I think white men should still play a role, still be leaders in our organizations, but we need to have more BIPOC at their side. Diversity of thought is not enough. We have deliberately sought out white men, regardless of laws, to lead for longer than the United States has existed, and, in recent history, we have tried to create an equal field for BIPOC and women, but the numbers above tell us that an equal field is not enough. 

Rethink your leadership selection process. Focus at the top. Be deliberate. Seek out diverse candidates. Choose them. Don’t look for the perfect fit. Look for the right fit.

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